Maid Marian
by Thomas Love Peacock

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Maid Marian by Thomas Love Peacock





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MAID MARIAN




CHAPTER I


Now come ye for peace here, or come ye for war? SCOTT.


"The abbot, in his alb arrayed," stood at the altar in the abbey-chapel
of Rubygill, with all his plump, sleek, rosy friars, in goodly lines disposed,
to solemnise the nuptials of the beautiful Matilda Fitzwater, daughter of
the Baron of Arlingford, with the noble Robert Fitz-Ooth, Earl of Locksley
and Huntingdon. The abbey of Rubygill stood in a picturesque valley,
at a little distance from the western boundary of Sherwood Forest, in a spot
which seemed adapted by nature to be the retreat of monastic mortification,
being on the banks of a fine trout-stream, and in the midst of woodland
coverts, abounding with excellent game. The bride, with her father
and attendant maidens, entered the chapel; but the earl had not arrived.
The baron was amazed, and the bridemaidens were disconcerted.
Matilda feared that some evil had befallen her lover, but felt no diminution
of her confidence in his honour and love. Through the open gates of the
chapel she looked down the narrow road that wound along the side of the hill;
and her ear was the first that heard the distant trampling of horses,
and her eye was the first that caught the glitter of snowy plumes,
and the light of polished spears. "It is strange," thought the baron,
"that the earl should come in this martial array to his wedding;"
but he had not long to meditate on the phenomenon, for the foaming steeds
swept up to the gate like a whirlwind, and the earl, breathless with speed,
and followed by a few of his yeomen, advanced to his smiling bride.
It was then no time to ask questions, for the organ was in full peal,
and the choristers were in full voice.

The abbot began to intone the ceremony in a style of modulation impressively
exalted, his voice issuing most canonically from the roof of his mouth,
through the medium of a very musical nose newly tuned for the occasion.
But he had not proceeded far enough to exhibit all the variety and compass
of this melodious instrument, when a noise was heard at the gate, and a party
of armed men entered the chapel. The song of the choristers died away
in a shake of demisemiquavers, contrary to all the rules of psalmody.
The organ-blower, who was working his musical air-pump with one hand,
and with two fingers and a thumb of the other insinuating a peeping-place
through the curtain of the organ-gallery, was struck motionless by the
double operation of curiosity and fear; while the organist, intent only
on his performance, and spreading all his fingers to strike a swell
of magnificent chords, felt his harmonic spirit ready to desert his body
on being answered by the ghastly rattle of empty keys, and in the consequent
agitato furioso of the internal movements of his feelings, was preparing
to restore harmony by the segue subito of an appoggiatura con foco with
the corner of a book of anthems on the head of his neglectful assistant,
when his hand and his attention together were arrested by the scene below.
The voice of the abbot subsided into silence through a descending scale
of long-drawn melody, like the sound of the ebbing sea to the explorers
of a cave. In a few moments all was silence, interrupted only by the iron
tread of the armed intruders, as it rang on the marble floor and echoed
from the vaulted aisles.

The leader strode up to the altar; and placing himself opposite to the abbot,
and between the earl and Matilda, in such a manner that the four together
seemed to stand on the four points of a diamond, exclaimed, "In the name
of King Henry, I forbid the ceremony, and attach Robert Earl of Huntingdon as
a traitor!" and at the same time he held his drawn sword between the lovers,
as if to emblem that royal authority which laid its temporal ban upon
their contract. The earl drew his own sword instantly, and struck down
the interposing weapon; then clasped his left arm round Matilda, who sprang
into his embrace, and held his sword before her with his right hand.
His yeomen ranged themselves at his side, and stood with their swords drawn,
still and prepared, like men determined to die in his defence.
The soldiers, confident in superiority of numbers, paused. The abbot took
advantage of the pause to introduce a word of exhortation. "My children,"
said he, "if you are going to cut each other's throats, I entreat you,
in the name of peace and charity, to do it out of the chapel."